Worried that time is running out to mount a successful petition drive should the negotiations fail, the head of the Rock Ventures empire has formed a ballot committee, hired the state’s top election lawyers and will be out on the street gathering signatures within a matter of days.
A source close to the situation told me Saturday that Gilbert’s team is crafting a citizens initiative for a law that would closely mirror the bills passed by the Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate over the past two weeks.
He’ll need to collect 340,000 signatures within six months. Once the names are gathered, the measure will go to the Legislature for an up or down vote. If the House and Senate then approve the initiative on a simple majority vote, it becomes law without the need for the governor’s signature. If they don’t, the proposal will automatically go on the 2020 fall ballot for voters to decide.
The governor has also said she would veto the Republican-sponsored no-fault insurance reform bills, which would replace Michigan’s unlimited personal injury protection in favor of a system that allows consumers to choose various levels of coverage, or none at all. Lawmakers contend the uncapped, lifetime health benefits are what has made Michigan the highest cost state for auto insurance. Republicans say their reforms will cut annual premiums by $1,200 or more per policy.
Despite making concessions designed to win Democratic votes, the governor still objects to the bill, saying she wants to require at least $250,000 of personal injury coverage and wants a mandate that insurers slash premiums by 40 percent.
She also wants no-fault reform tied to a fuel tax to fix the roads, and passage of her budget.
Under a new voter approved law approved that went into effect Jan.1, signatures on ballot initiatives must be gathered from all 14 Michigan congressional districts, proportional to population.
The optimum period for collecting names is spring and summer when more people are outdoors in public places. The concern is that if negotiations drag on all summer, it will be difficult to circulate petitions in northern Michigan once the colder weather comes this fall.
Estimates suggest it will cost $3 million to collect the required number of petition signatures. Gilbert is prepared to fund the committee, called Citizens for Lower Auto Insurance Rates, but also will attempt to raise money from others.
And since his proposal will mimic the language of the no-fault reform bills that have already passed the Legislature, he expects approval of the initiative from lawmakers, sparing the cost of a ballot election campaign.
To get the job done, he’s recruited three of the top election law firms in the state — Honigman, Dykema and Lansing-based Doster Law Offices. The nation’s leading signature gathering outfit, National Petition Management, which has a 100 percent success rate in Michigan, has also been hired.
Gilbert’s move will likely influence negotiations between lawmakers and the governor. Since his proposal will be nearly identical to theirs, Republicans have less incentive to bend to Whitmer’s demands.
The source said Gilbert has done extensive polling on the issue, and believes the measure has strong support.
Gilbert has threatened in the past to bypass the policy-making process and go directly to voters if Michigan’s elected leaders refuse to deliver no-fault insurance reform’
His belief, shared by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, is that the high cost of auto insurance, which in Detroit typically runs three to four times the national average of $1,400 a year per vehicle, is a major impediment to repopulating the city. Gilbert has spent billions redeveloping downtown, and has begun to move his investment dollars into the neighborhoods.
In moving forward with the ballot measure while negotiations in Lansing are still underway, he makes it less likely the aggressive cost-cutting reforms passed by the Legislature will be surrendered to get a deal with Whitmer.